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At 76 years old, Murray's is the oldest

At 76 years old, Murray's is the oldest cheese shop in New York City. (Credit: Murray's Cheese)

food & drink

Secrets of Murray's Cheese: An NYC institution dating to 1940

254 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

Like a fine cheese, Murray's has aged with New York City.

And as the city's oldest cheese shop, Murray's is packed with secrets.

"It's a New York institution," explained Rob Kaufelt, who refers to himself as Murray the Third, i.e. Murray's third owner in its 76-year history.

Grab a slice of your favorite cheddar and chew away at these cheesy tidbits.

The original Murray was Murray Greenberg, a Jewish

Credit: Murray's Cheese

Murray's wasn't always a cheese shop

The original Murray was Murray Greenberg, a Jewish European immigrant who opened the original Murray's shop at 42 Cornelia St. in 1940. At the time, the shop was a general food store, selling cheese, butter, eggs and more. Greenberg's original Murray's functioned more like a bodega or Korean deli than like the specialty food store it is today.

When Greenberg retired in 1970, he sold the Greenwich Village shop to his longtime clerk, Louis Tudda, an Italian immigrant. In the '70s, Bleecker Street had become an Italian enclave and Murray's carried primarily Italian products, such as fresh cheese and cured meat, as well as Mediterranean foods including olive oil, vinegar and crackers.

Because it's the best cheese, of course. Murray's

Credit: Murray's Cheese

Murray's most popular cheese is mozzarella

Because it's the best cheese, of course. Murray's sells 200,000 pounds of mozzarella each year, followed by 150,000 pounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano, 125,000 pounds of French double crème Brie, and 100,000 pounds of Irish cheddar.

Though always in Greenwich Village, Murray's, like any

Credit: Murray's Cheese

At 76 years old, Murray's is the oldest cheese shop in NYC

Though always in Greenwich Village, Murray's, like any good New Yorker, has moved a few times.

While waiting in line at Murray's one day, current owner and Cornelia Street resident Rob Kaufelt overheard that Tudda had lost his lease. Kaufelt, who had worked in his family's recently sold New Jersey grocery business, was looking for his next venture.

In 1991, Kaufelt made a deal with Tudda to purchase Murray's, and Tudda, instead of retiring back to his native Italy, stayed on board.

The lease was still expired, so Kaufelt moved Murray's to the corner of Cornelia and Bleecker, across the street from where Murray's Cheese stands today. Fifteen years later, that lease expired and Murray's expanded across the street to its current Bleecker Street location.

Actually, cheese itself is a seasonal product. But

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Murray's cheese selection is seasonal

Actually, cheese itself is a seasonal product. But that's hard to remember if your favorite cheese comes individually wrapped, pre-sliced and artificially colored. Cheese varieties depend on the abundance and type of grass a cow has eaten in any given season, the humidity in the air as the cheese ages and more. The menu at Murray's Cheese Bar also changes seasonally to reflect the cheeses and produce in season.

More space allowed Murray's to carry more groceries.

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

After moving to Bleecker Street, Murray's continued to expand

More space allowed Murray's to carry more groceries. The Bleecker Street store also added classrooms, to teach employees and paying students about wine and cheese; aging caves in the cellar; and more prepared food products.

In 2012, Murray's expanded westward at 264 Bleecker St., onetime location of former tapas restaurant Bar'rique and which soon became home to Murray's Cheese Bar, a full-service restaurant with a menu featuring gourmet mac and cheese, plenty of cheese platters and a deliciously dairy-heavy brunch.

Murray's grew once again in 2014, adding even more homemade products, a standalone melts bar and refrigerated cases under the stairs (an amazing use of space, if you even notice the extra storage) to carry even more imported and local food products.

For most of the '90s, Kaufelt worked behind

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Murray's carries cheeses from all over the world

For most of the '90s, Kaufelt worked behind the counter. As business picked up, he could afford to hire a clerk, allowing Kaufelt to travel the cheese world. He traveled Europe to the cheese countries -- Spain, France, England, Italy and beyond -- and began to import cheeses to give a direct line from the farmers and cheesemakers to American customers. At the time, "no other shops were doing that," Kaufelt said. He was bringing in cheeses no one in the United States had ever seen before. "I forget them all, there were hundreds," said Kaufelt, who has written a book about international cheeses. Kaufelt said he introduced New Yorkers to Spanish cheeses like the now-popular manchego and Idiazabal.

Kaufelt would find guides, like Mama Gisella, an octogenarian whom he met when working in New Jersey, to take him on cheese tours through Europe. Gisella led him across Italy to find Gorgonzola in the Alps and then south to taste Sicilian cheeses. Kaufelt also traveled to Neal's Yard Dairy, "The Murray's of London," to bring in traditional English cheeses, like Stilton.

To date, Murray's has 16 countries represented in its cheese selection, though that rotates seasonally.

And yes, all five of these homemade specialty

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Murray's has its own line of preserves

And yes, all five of these homemade specialty preserves are designed to pair with cheese.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the rich and famous visit Murray's

"We have the rent-controlled crowd that are still left in the village and we have the movie-star crowd," Kaufelt said as he motioned toward a spot a movie star whom he declined to name was standing just the day before. Jesse Eisenberg (center) is a known regular at Murray's, and Neil Patrick Harris (right) and his family have been spotted at the shop as well. This reporter once sat next to Michael Cera (left) eating brunch at Murray's Cheese Bar, and plenty of other undisclosed celebrities are said to frequent both the shop and the restaurant.

In a 1982 New York Times article, then-Mayor

Credit: Getty Images; Melissa Kravitz

Former NYC mayor Ed Koch was a Murray's Cheese fan

In a 1982 New York Times article, then-Mayor Ed Koch told food writer Mimi Sheraton that he liked cooking for his friends, in his apartment near Washington Square Park, using ingredients from Murray's. "The meal begins with arugula and cheeses from Murray's Cheese Shop on Cornelia Street, where I buy whatever is on sale. Did you know that Argentine Swiss and fontina cheeses are strong and delicious and very cheap? I might also have Limburger cheese with onion and some tarama, the Greek roe that I add chopped onion to and let ferment in the jar. Very pungent. Finn Crisp is best with that," he said.

Murray's Monger's Table is a chef's tasting menu

Credit: Murray's Cheese Bar

Murray's is the only NYC restaurant to serve a cheese tasting menu

Murray's Monger's Table is a chef's tasting menu for the cheese obsessed. Ten courses follow the journey of cheese from milk to curds to whey to aged Alpine delights and beyond. Cheese monger and beverage director Rachel Freier guides just 16 guests a week through the 90-minute tasting. And yes, you can pair beer and wines with your cheeses. Sound indulgent? Reservations are difficult to get, but you can try to snag a seat at murrayscheesebar.com.

Down in the basement kitchen where all prepared

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Murray's old cheese caves are now used as walk-in coolers

Down in the basement kitchen where all prepared food is made, the former cheese caves serve as walk-ins similar to any other restaurant, but with fancier doors.

Yes, this is Murray's Cheese, in Long Island

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

A major part of the Murray's operation takes place in Queens

Yes, this is Murray's Cheese, in Long Island City. Though not open to the public, Murray's offices, wholesale storage and more are located in this building. Most importantly: So are the cheese caves, which, though not exposed to direct sunlight, are more like giant specialized refrigerators than the rustic caves you'd find in French cheese-making circa the 18th century. Originally located in the Bleecker Street basement, Murray's expanded to Queens in 2013 and built four new cheese caves at its new headquarters.

But Murray's doesn't use soap for washing! As

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Cheese washing is an important part of bringing out cheeses' unique flavors

But Murray's doesn't use soap for washing! As cheeses are aged, they're washed with beer or cider, a process that's repeated every few days.

This tool, called a

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

This is how you taste an aging cheese

This tool, called a "cheese trier" (yes, that's the official name), is used to carve a small hole in the cheese wheel so you can extract it and see how much flavor has built up inside the cheese. After trying a small piece, the cavemaster replaces the missing piece and literally plugs up the cheese wheel with more cheese until the next tasting.

Don't worry, it's good mold. Murray's ages both

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Even moldy cheese has a recipe

Don't worry, it's good mold. Murray's ages both soft and hard cheeses in a variety of conditions in order to achieve the optimal flavor. Each is labeled and checked on every few days. Once the cheeses are ready, they're shipped out for online orders or taken to the Bleecker Street and Grand Central stores for New Yorkers' enjoyment.

Murray's Cheese of the Month Subscription is curated

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

You can (and probably should) subscribe to endless cheese

Murray's Cheese of the Month Subscription is curated straight from the cheese caves to your doorstep, delivered on the second Thursday of every month (i.e., your new favorite day of the week). The subscription box has been endorsed by Oprah, which makes it the perfect gift (for yourself). Prices start at $275 for a four-month subscription, but good cheese doesn't come cheap.